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Bilingualism: Winning a world for Christ

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Archives / 2017 / March



Bilingualism: Winning a world for Christ

Jeffrey O. Brown

Jeffrey O. Brown, PhD, is associate editor, Ministry.


I ’ll never forget his illustration during our seminary chapel. A cat was chasing a mouse along 42nd Street in New York City. The mouse went into a pothole. The cat’s paw circled in vain to reach it. Suddenly the mouse heard a woof, woof. The cat’s paw shot up out of the hole. All went quiet. The mouse cautiously emerged from its hole and was immediately scooped up by the cat. Holding the frightened and bewildered mouse up with its paw, the cat declared, “Little mouse, you’ve got to learn, you need to be bilingual to survive in New York.”

The speaker was the late great George Webber, president of New York Theological Seminary. His sermonic text was “ ‘Seek peace and well-being for the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its peace (well-being) you will have peace’ ” (Jer. 29:7, AMP). Dr. Webber had moved his family into humble apartments in New York City because he believed that Christians should be bilingual. To “preach the gospel to every creature” requires us to be familiar with the language of faith and the language of the world. Such bilingualism requires two qualifications: quantity and quality.

With regard to quantity, saving our world requires all hands on deck. In the Adventist Church, we call it Total Member Involvement.1 It means pastors and members together, young and old together, men and women together, black and white together, and Hispanic and Asian together, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. The world will be reached only by using all of the parts of the body of Christ. “Every man and woman and child should be a worker for God.”2 If we use all of the parts, we will be united and succeed. If we exclude any part, we will be fragmented and fail.

With regard to quality, Patrick Lencioni quotes a friend as saying, “ ‘If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.’ ” Lencioni comments, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”3

Side by side we stand, and we stand closely together. You cannot divide us. No wedge can come between us. We are separate individuals, but you can’t separate us.

Bound together as with a tight seal.

One is so near to another

That no air can come between them.

They are joined one to another;

They stick together and cannot be separated (Job 41:15b–17, AMP).

The church is like a marriage. “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matt. 19:6, AMP) This is a mutuality that leads to a oneness unparalleled by any human institution. This is intimacy at its highest.

There’s a song that’s a favorite at our church’s General Conference sessions: Wayne Hooper’s “We Have This Hope.” As popular as it is, people are always surprised that there is a verse two:

We are united in Jesus Christ our Lord.

We are united in His love.

Love for the waiting people of the world,

People who need our Savior’s love.4

We are united—by our love for each other and our “love for the waiting people of the world.” Bilingual. Another hymn says, “We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.”5 This is the basis of our unity: blessed hope, fundamental beliefs, and love—differences of administrations but no division, diversities of operations but no independence.6

It is impossible for one person to master all languages. But the more there are of us onboard, the more people we are likely to reach. And quantity combined with quality equals the church. There should be no institution more inclusive than the church: vastly different but with all believers eligible for membership and service. And there should be no organization more intimate than the body of Christ; with passion for the mission and all rowing in the same direction. It is, as Lencioni says, the ultimate competitive advantage. It is so powerful and so rare.

Total inclusion (quantity) and total intimacy (quality). Examine yourself. Are these found in your church organization? Twin keys for equipping the church for ministry to the world. Twin imperatives for the church to survive and thrive. How bilingual are we?

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1 “No matter your age, nationality, or gender, God is calling you to be part of His mission.” Ted N. C. Wilson, “God’s Mission,” Adventist World, September 2016, 5.

2 Ellen G. White, “An Appeal to the Churches,” Review and Herald, March 14, 1878.

3 Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002), vii.

4 Wayne Hooper, “We Have This Hope,” 1962,

5 S. Baring-Gould, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” _christian_soldiers_marching_as.

6 See 1 Corinthians 12:4, 5, KJV.

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